Most Valuable Person: Examining the real ‘legacy’ of Steve Nash

nash graphic final

Steve Nash retired yes­ter­day. His career spanned most of my life as an NBA fan, but for some rea­son he has never man­aged to mat­ter as much to me as he ‘should have’. But a time like this is an ideal oppor­tu­nity to look back and gain some per­spec­tive on what Nash’s career has meant to the game.

I was never the biggest Nash fan. When he was at his best, I watched the game dif­fer­ently — dizzy from the ‘hero ball’ fix that grow­ing up in the Iver­son era had me hooked to, unable to really appre­ci­ate the the sub­tler things he brought to the game. I saw an over appre­ci­ated point guard as a poster child for reverse race equal­ity. A player who was too nice, sort of flashy but not dom­i­nant enough, suc­cess­ful yes, but never enough to get over the spurs hump.

Chris Connelly

Well, that’s OK that they didn’t win the title, at least they were crit­i­cally acclaimed!

Too often we judge play­ers by cham­pi­onships, minia­tur­is­ing and sim­pli­fy­ing a career into stats and num­bers but some­where legacy is really about influ­ence — what we will remem­ber about play­ers, who they influ­enced, how they con­tributed to the evo­lu­tion of the game.

Lee Jenkins

on Nash’s Legacy

When Goran Dragic deploys the up-and-under, that’s Steve Nash. When Tony Parker runs three pick-and-rolls on the same pos­ses­sion, when Damian Lil­lard lets it fly because a fool­ish defender sneaks under a screen, when Rajon Rondo dri­ves inside, cir­cles back, and patiently finds a cut­ter, that’s also Steve Nash. When the War­riors go small, the Hawks go fast, and some­body some­where torches a trap with a metic­u­lously placed bounce pass to a careen­ing giant, that too can be traced at least in part to Steve Nash.

It’s hard to remem­ber now, but the Suns felt like a counter-cultural move­ment as much as a bas­ket­ball team. They played fast, free and loose and threat­ened to sub­vert the time-honored tropes that defense-first, iso­la­tion bas­ket­ball wins cham­pi­onships. Nash and the Suns attacked the entire ecosys­tem from the outside-in with pick-and-rolls and wide open threes.

So what do we really owe Nash? He rev­o­lu­tionised the pick and roll but part of the credit must go to Amar’e and the emer­gence of the rim run­ning big. Nash played the point with an immense sense of con­trol despite the con­stant fre­netic pace D’Antoni’s sys­tem demanded, but was rel­a­tively unnassertive as a scorer. The Steph Curry as Nash com­par­isons don’t really res­onate with me. Steph draws a lot from Nash, but his offen­sive dom­i­nance, improv­ing defen­sive instincts and abil­ity to play off the ball are markedly different.

But Nash with his con­stant drib­bling in and out of traf­fic, pick and roll mas­tery and abil­ity to con­duct the team’s offense from a sin­gle point of con­trol reflects more in Chris Paul (who admit­tedly stud­ied tape of Nash pick and rolls obses­sively) than in the mod­ern ‘scor­ing point guards’ like Steph, Kyrie and Lillard.

And with the way the game is evolv­ing today with the ball touch­ing many hands in the quest to find the elu­sive ‘best’ shot, where the best teams have mul­ti­ple play­ers who can drib­ble, pass and shoot, the tra­di­tional point guard as ‘ful­crum on which the offen­sive attack rests’ may be on its way out.

The point guard as the ‘head of the snake’ is giv­ing way to an offen­sive attack resem­bling a ‘Medusa head’ — when every­body on the floor is a threat, it becomes that much harder to game-plan for.

In essence, we may never see another Steve Nash, so now would be a good time to appre­ci­ate him one last time.

& here’s a look at 10 num­bers that defined Nash’s career

Play­ers who can bound across the court, leap to unbe­liev­able heights, or power through crowds of oppo­nents can often find suc­cess at any level with­out tech­ni­cal refine­ment. Despite his under­ap­pre­ci­ated phys­i­cal gifts, Nash couldn’t, so he had no other choice but to become tech­ni­cally perfect.

His prac­tices have inhab­ited the cur­ric­ula of so many coaches not because they were excep­tional, but because they were attain­able: a set of attrib­utes that could be honed with the same metic­u­lous rep­e­ti­tion that made Nash into an eight-time All-Star. That’s why Nash has arguably had more influ­ence in the player devel­op­ment indus­try than any other NBA great.

The hard work and tech­ni­cal excel­lence are great to learn from and aspire to, but they’re not nec­es­sar­ily unique to Nash, nor is he nec­es­sar­ily the apex to study in that respect. I would say Kobe sur­passed Nash as a player to ‘study’ — his slav­ing over end­less drills to acquire new weapons almost every off­sea­son, play­ing soc­cer for foot­work (as Nash did too), the count­less hours spent emu­lat­ing Jordan’s fade­away, Ola­ju­won camp to develop a postgame as a late career insur­ance plan. As hard as Nash worked, it was Kobe who spent his career tire­lessly craft­ing a game that had no dis­cernible weaknesses.

But what sep­a­rates them is that while Kobe invested in him­self to wanted to carry his teams, Nash invested in his teams so they could carry him.

Bill Simmons

on Steve Nash

…Most of all it was his lead­er­ship style, how per­cep­tive he was. For instance, Nash didn’t just play with Stoudemire. He won­dered why Stoudemire behaved cer­tain ways in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, and what inter­nal and exter­nal forces con­tributed to that behav­ior. He won­dered how to make him happy and keep him happy. He tried to fig­ure out every con­ceiv­able way to make Stoudemire bet­ter at bas­ket­ball, both on and off the court. And a lot of times, it didn’t have any­thing to do with bas­ket­ball. Amar’e Stoudemire was a com­pli­cated puz­zle that Nash never stopped try­ing to solve.

This was a whole other level of think­ing.

The Goran Dragic explo­sion that finally helped Nash beat the Spurs is one such exam­ple. It was Nash’s tute­lage of Dragic that paid off as an undoubted turn­ing point in the series and in the direc­tion of the San Anto­nio fran­chise (Popovic cred­its that Suns series as the point where he began to shift the Spurs approach from a slow, post cen­tric defen­sive team to the dynamic, hyper effi­cient and dev­as­tat­ing bas­ket­ball offen­sive improv machine that it is today).

The aspect of Nash’s game that really res­onates with me are his lead­er­ship style and com­mit­ment to team chem­istry and player improvement.

When Mike Con­ley talked about his men­tal clock that kept tabs of team­mate touches and when to involve whom, you can see the direct influ­ence of the Nash school of thought.

It is this ide­alised vision of the ‘empa­thetic point­guard’ that we hope will some­day bal­ance the ‘me against the world’ ten­den­cies of tran­scen­dent tal­ents like Westbrook.

Amin Elhassan

on Nash

Steve was always encour­ag­ing but never preachy, and he led by exam­ple in the truest sense of the word. He kept spir­its high, never berated or scowled at team­mates for miss­ing shots (and ruin­ing his stats), like you see some point guards do. He had an unbe­liev­able abil­ity to breed con­fi­dence in every­one around him, myself included. I know what a good point guard plays like because I saw one of the best every day, and that expe­ri­ence has helped me in eval­u­at­ing count­less other play­ers.

He was an expert at team build­ing, under­stand­ing bas­ket­ball was more fun when every­one got along and was pulling for one another.

Steve Nash was one guy almost any player in the league would have loved to have on his team and it showed.

Dirk Now­itzki on his buddy Steve 

He over­came a lot in his career, being injured, being short, being slow, and white and unathletic

When you’re short, white, slow and un-athletic, it pays to have your team­mates help­ing you out as much as they can.

In an age where advanced met­rics have helped us quan­tify almost every on court action, it may be what he did off it that mat­ters most. We have yet to fully realise the real value of player per­son­al­ity beyond vague terms like Michael Beasley ‘locker room can­cer’ and ‘glue guy’ get thrown around a lot in bas­ket­ball dis­cus­sions.  Steve Nash the per­son, was a cat­a­lyst for success.

In his ‘Book of Bas­ket­ball’ Bill Sim­mons wrote, “within a few weeks (of Nash’s arrival in Phoenix, every­one started play­ing unselfishly and get­ting each other bas­kets, like his mag­na­nim­ity had seeped into every­one else by osmosis…and when you think about it, that’s the sin­gle most impor­tant way you can affect a bas­ket­ball team.”

His con­tri­bu­tions to still unmea­sur­able things like player devel­op­ment, chem­istry and con­ti­nu­ity are what have  really made Steve Nash an all time great.

He showed that, con­trary to the pop­u­lar nar­ra­tive, it is pos­si­ble to be intensely com­pet­i­tive, supremely suc­cess­ful (back to back MVPs, wins and his pretty gaudy career num­bers are noth­ing to scoff at) and still be the guy that every­one wants to play with. He played to win, played for his team­mates, but most of all he played for the joy of the game. For Steve, his unselfish­ness wasn’t a weak­ness, it was his great­est weapon. Bas­ket­ball wasn’t a com­pe­ti­tion, it was a celebration.

The After Party

In an inter­view I once heard Dirk talk about retire­ment: about how much prepa­ra­tion that goes into play­ing at a high level when you’re age­ing — about how that get exhaust­ing; and when that gets too much, when you get too tired to keep doing that — you retire. 

Steve Nash never got tired: he fought till the very end, and through his great doc­u­men­tary ‘The Fin­ish Line’ and was even nice enough to share his strug­gles and inse­cu­ri­ties with the rest of us. 

Steve Nash on the present 

I think I can [still] have a great game. But I can’t do it more than once or twice a month.

It will always hurt that Phoenix Suns fans didn’t get the cham­pi­onship they deserved dur­ing our run. Yes, we had some bad luck but I always look back at it and think, I could’ve made one more shot, or not forced a turnover, or made a bet­ter pass. But I don’t regret any­thing. The arena was always sold out and rock­ing. It was the time of my life. Thanks, Phoenix.

Steve Nash offi­cially retired yes­ter­day, but hon­estly he’s been gone ever since he put on that #10 Lak­ers jer­sey. The real­ity of watch­ing age­ing stars whit­tle away into ashes is bru­tal — the after­im­age repeats for so long, we for­get how good they were, almost for­get that they we’re good at all. I can hardly remem­ber the fear Minnesota-era KG struck in oppos­ing teams just by his abil­ity and inten­sity, not his dirty vet­eran cheap shots and ille­gal screens learned at the Bruce Bowen acad­emy. How dev­as­tat­ing Amar’e used to be when i watch him 17 spot min­utes every third game as an off the bench post scorer for the mid­dling Mavs.  I sadly feel Der­rick Rose MVP sea­son will be a dis­tant mem­ory replaced by an image of an inef­fi­cient high vol­ume scor­ing guard with a bro­ken shoot­ing stroke set­tling for too many long 2s.

But some­where I feel Nash got lucky. His brief LA stint seems like an anom­alous foot­note one can eas­ily skip over. In real­ity he retired a Sun — all of Phoenix knew that…

Dev Kabir Malik has a clinically alarming dependence on basketball and spends most of his time watching, analyzing, writing and even playing a little pickup (and some 2K too). In the little time he has left, he dabbles with design, art & music.